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A Word on the True Ruler of the World

November 23, 2013

Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, 2013

OT       Jeremiah 23:1-6       Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri c. 1880

NT       Colossians 1:11-20

Gospel: Luke 23:33-43 (to read later)

Today’s three readings relate to Christ the King Sunday. A before and after … and in the middle the Gospel reading has the story of the coronation or the enthronement of the king

 

Jeremiah gives voice to the hope of Israel for a time of justice created by God. His hope is for a king or messiah who will establish divine justice for Israel. Jeremiah tells his readers. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice…And this is the name by which he shall be called “The Lord is our Righteousness” – or ‘the Lord is our Justice’(that’s the before).

 

Colossians is an astonishing description – after the event – of the arrival of God’s justice or God’s kingdom. Listen to this for a dramatic account of the arrival of divine justice 1:13

“He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Colossians looks back on the arrival of divine justice as a kind of Commando raid into enemy territory. A rescue mission which transfers us into a new political arena – the kingdom of the Son in which humanity is redeemed, restored, brought back to life again. It couldn’t be any more dramatic a metaphor. But Colossians does more. It lifts this whole ancient notion of a Messiah King to a deeper level. It’s easy for us to slip into silly ideas of God. To think of God as something like a Greek or pagan god – a character with the usual human traits and conflicts but with the addition of super-human powers. This makes Superman a kind of God. The God who brings justice to earth, according to Colossians, is the one in whom ‘all things in heaven and earth are created’… He is ‘before all things and in him all things hold together’. That’s probably one of the clearest definitions of God in all of Christian thought. God is not one thing in the world, even the most powerful thing in the world. God is the reason there is a world at all – and by that we mean the reason there is a universe at all, anything at all. God is the source in which all things have their life.

And Colossians says… God (in this serious sense) has lived among us to bring justice to the earth. In the life of Jesus ‘the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ v19. “And through him God was pleased to reconcile (restore) to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of his cross”.

 

Something has happened between Jeremiah’s vision of justice and the letter to the Colossians that has blown Jewish and Christian imagination out of the water.

 

Now its time to listen to the story of the enthronement of the king and the arrival of divine justice

Read Gospel: Luke 23:33-43

What stands out in this story is how many times the word King is used in this brief section. Messiah is effectively code-word for king (Messiah = anointed one i.e. coming king). On my count, if we include a reference to “kingdom”, there are five references to king in ten verses … making this whole story a kind of commentary on kingship.

 

I am reminded of the title of the HBO’s TV series “Game of Thrones”. My daughters tell me “Game of Thrones” is a brutal affair, parental guidance is recommended. Today’s gospel reading is also a story of competing thrones, it is also a brutal affair, parental guidance is recommended. It is the story of God taking up his throne. Jesus is declared to be king, while being crucified among criminals

 

“They cast lots to divide his clothing” – He has become rubbish and property. His body is to be eaten by the birds and his clothes are rags to be fought over – it is complete shame

 

“Save your self” is the repeated chorus – a real king would save himself, anyone with the power to do so would save himself, ergo this man is a fraudulent king

 

The thing that makes a king a king, in everybody’s mind is his ability to save himself, to defend himself. To everyone this man fails the test of being a king.

 

It is the criminal hanging with him, though, who correctly recognises him as a king (Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom)

 

The readers of this gospel, those who know that he is risen… who know that God has vindicated his kingship and the justice he brings … the readers of this gospel identify themselves with the criminal “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

 

And so his defining temptation, his point of ultimate conflict with the world lies at the point at which he refuses to save himself and chooses instead to let himself be captured and killed and finally ‘commends his Spirit into the hands of Abba’. He does not doubt Abba. He is confident that God will vindicate him, confident that the criminal on the cross and he himself will find themselves with God when all is said and done (or perhaps more importantly – that God is with them as they hang there dying).

 

If a king is someone who ‘saves himself’, who uses his own power for his own ends, Jesus is not a king. His life is, from beginning to end an expression of self-giving into the will of Abba for the sake of those he knows are loved by Abba. According to the crowd’s definition, he is not a King.

 

He hangs on the cross as a joke on the world. The central event of Christian faith is a joke – God’s joke on the world. The world that puts the title king on his cross, does not know what they are doing. Those who think they are being ironical are in fact telling the truth. Those who think they are proving his failure to be King are in fact enthroning him as king… and as the criminal is told, Jesus is in fact on his way to his kingdom. This is his point of entry. This is his throne.

 

If Colossians is right then what we have here is God’s drama (God with a big G). The drama that unveils the fraudulence of all human powers of self-defense – of all human desire to ‘save ourselves’. Human kingdoms are unveiled as fraudulent. In the face of divine justice and the divine king.

 

I began by suggesting that our gospel reading is a ‘Game of thrones’. But this “game of thrones” throws a cat among the pigeons. This game is a game-breaker. It introduces a completely new element into the struggle for power. A king who won’t do what is expected – save himself.

 

And God’s justice is unveiled as a powerless determination to forgive, and if need be, to suffer in the process. It is the death of all self-defense and the beginning of ‘reconciliation’.

 

In this way a kingdom is born that is light in darkness – a kingdom that, in contrast to all other kingdoms will never end and will indeed triumph.

This is our faith. Thanks be to God

 

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